Let’s face it: No one goes into the Bed-and-Breakfast business thinking they’re going to strike gold.
For many small business owners, it’s the joy of meeting people, of serving weary (and excited!) travelers and the love of sharing the place they call home with others.
At least, that’s what propels that initial foray into the world of B&Bs.
Five-star reviews, running meet-and-greets, booking out rooms – these all come right after the initial buzz of starting something new has worn off.
Yet, by all accounts, B&Bs have a rosy outlook.
From 2013 to 2018, the number of B&Bs has grown.
In terms of revenue, long-term trends indicate an overall rise, projected all the way to 2024.
Besides the mini-dip in 2023, the strong demand for B&Bs shows that owners have a chance to really capitalize in the next five to seven years on a market that’s on the rise and likely to thrive. In fact, while the industry is considered “mature,” there’s a very strong expectation of growth in revenue when compared to revenues from other industries within the sector.
So there’s an opportunity here. But how can B&B owners get a slice of the proverbial pie?
So far, all the chips are playing out in their favor.
“Average occupancy, or number of rooms filled on a daily basis, according to PAII, has skyrocketed along with the number of available properties, increasing from 45 to 50 percent in a recent four-year period. And room prices have also increased, going from $103 to $121 in the same four-year stretch.” – Professional Association of Innkeepers International (PAII)
Part of the robustness for the industry can be attributed to the precedent set by Airbnb: it’s managed to popularize more informal and personal travel accommodations. A greater number of people have come to prefer this more intimate and “local” way of booking and traveling.
And closely connected with this digital disruption caused by Airbnb is the larger, more macrocosmic shift in the hospitality market at large: digital and tech innovations that streamline, simplify, and promise to delight the customer experience, from booking to departure, at a fraction of the cost.
And it’s something that B&B owners would do well to harness.
1) Review Management
The first aspect to digital enhancements for the B&B market is important for everyone within the hospitality sector: managing those reviews.
You’ll see that managing reviews in the digital space is actually not about completing the customer’s experience but, rather, anticipating it, and then having the forethought and planning in place to engineer that experience and the resulting glowing review.
In other words, intend to put into place all those pieces that will get you the review you’re looking for.
Harnessing the power of review marketing
Review marketing: What is it?
When your potential customer is looking to book you over hundreds of other, comparable, accommodations, reviews are a huge propeller. They’re the “why,” the catalyst, and the justification for the customer’s choice.
But it’s not just the number of five-star reviews you get nor how many of these review sites you populate. Of course, that’s important. What’s really critical is how you respond.
You’ll notice, for example, that the proprietors of Netherleigh Bed and Breakfast respond to reviews in a highly selective manner. For the most part, all their reviews are positive. And even the ones marked “critical,” such as the 4-star review below, are generally positive.
However, instead of responding to both, the proprietor decided to only respond to 5-star reviews. That’s unfortunate because, with a simple acknowledgment, they might have ensured an even more delighted customer who, now, may end up booking elsewhere.
The thing is, customers are willing to overlook a “bad” review because they understand that everyone’s experiences are subjective. What irks one person, another person may not even bat an eyelid at.
They’re more interested in how you, or a member of your team, respond to and resolve the situation reported by the irate traveler.
Your response can be an opportunity to give a potential customer/reader the chance to know, more fully, the picture behind the scenes. So it’s not just about following up – if you don’t respond at all, you miss out on speaking to your potential customer in a more subtle way.
For example, since 52% of customers want to see reviews that “mention tips that improve the guest experience,” this is the owner’s chance to do just that!
Managing your reviews in a timely and friendly manner, engaging with, thanking, and even addressing customer concerns on these platforms is incredibly important. Review management, at the end of it, is all about managing and addressing the details.
The details are, after all, where you can prevent customer attrition.
What’s your niche?
See, your “niche” is directly related to your customers’ experience of your B&B. And it’s not just your “digital” niche, either. Your B&B can benefit from using particular themes and marketing itself in this way.
Choosing a niche or theme for your B&B attracts the right kind of travelers and will determine which booking sites you should rely on and manage reviews on.
For example, according to research by The Business Research Company, “wellness vacations” are an increasing theme that is spurring B&B profitability.
“People are interested in incorporating activities such as cycling and yoga into their travel plans.”
Focusing on a niche is a B&B proprietor’s way to tap into digital behavior, thinking like a hotel, but operating (especially in terms of cost) as a small business.
According to the same research, 74% of B&Bs are profitable precisely because they have no employee overheads or they use sub-contractors on a more casual basis.
And if you can use these digital enhancements, you’re likely to see an influx of guests while still being able to operate like a lean, mean, booking machine.
Using email marketing
Email marketing is incredibly powerful. It’s not so much about open rates as it is about timing. Email marketing can be used to great effect in building nurture sequences and for building trust, providing personalized perks, rewards, and discounts.
A powerful loyalty program or an email marketing suite that provides a way to “tag” customers is crucial to your retention and re-booking rates. You want to make sure that all the trouble you’ve gone through and the effort you’ve put forth creating an unforgettable stay actually pays off.
And the best “ROI” is a re-book. Loyalty programs, even in small-format operations like B&Bs, can pay-off, big time. If 18% of travelers already sign up for them and 35% “sometimes” sign up, that’s over half your guests!
In fact, part of the profitability factor of B&Bs is precisely because they’ve had to compete in an already “competitive” environment.
While Airbnb has paved the way for a change in travelers’ behaviors (booking and otherwise), it has also made the market far more saturated, since individuals can now list their personal properties as accommodations.
In order to keep up their momentum and professional edge, B&Bs owners have had to resort to certain “flexible trends in the industry,” including:
- Flexible check-out times
- Smart room keys
- Increasing use of analytics
- Personalization of services
Yes. Even B&Bs.
2) Streamlined Booking Experience
A streamlined booking experience is all about your digital activities online. Review management is just one part of it.
But there are three other prongs from which to tackle your attrition and booking rates: the online customer experience of booking through OTAs, aligning your social media, and using your website as a viable hub for your digital footprint.
See, customer behavior is already about booking using OTAs because of the convenience and user-friendliness of the entire experience.
So why not meet them where they’re already at?
At the same time, booking directly through providers is perceived as less user-friendly and less convenient though increasingly secure. Yet individuals opt for convenience over security.
This points out clear areas for improvement. If you’re a B&B owner, you have a chance to take over your customers’ preferences for booking with OTAs by either matching or surpassing the convenience and user-friendly aspects.
And that’s where your website comes in.
Use your website as more than just a content corral
Many individuals who own B&Bs will simply use their website to display a plethora of beautiful pictures of their property.
If they’re a little more tech savvy, they may also hook up a calendar or some kind of primitive booking system – which turns out to be a nightmare to try and organize on the back-end.
Instead of this ad-hoc, informal, rigged together system, B&B owners need to have a firm, streamlined strategy for capturing bookings and crucial customer information – making it easy on the customer side and on their own side.
They’ll need to invest in technology like property management systems, channel managers, website builders, and a booking management software that hooks in to and plays nicely with email marketing.
Remember the semi-negative, 4-star review we saw above? The customer’s major complaint was that it was too cold and, worse still, they were unable to reach the manager. This could have been easily prevented with technology.
For example, a property management app could have been easily used by the guest in order to create a request, which someone on the team or the proprietor could then look at and address – especially if it’s after hours.
It’s not just about improving the perception of your guests. A streamlined booking experience includes creating the systems on the back-end that will capture and support these “standard” customer expectations.
Many of these systems give proprietors cloud-based benefits that include automating and accelerating administrative tasks and paperwork, alongside allowing them to distribute rooms online, expand market reach, and maintain a good relationship with the Google gods of search.
Social media much?
Especially because you own a sweet little B&B, it’s important to use social media to the max.
Customers already like to book online and, as we’ve seen, rely on customer reviews to make their final booking decisions.
And part of that research is social proof through social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook.
3) Ancillary Services
The final skewer in this three-pronged approach to positively affecting your online booking rates is to offer ancillary services that are standard but “upgraded” using technology.
You can certainly take your cues from boutique hotels and think of it less as an upgrade and more of a catching-up with traveler expectations.
Digital meeting spaces
Wi-fi. It’s what everyone demands when they first walk through those doors.
Often, inns and B&Bs can host business meetings or be “quaint” lunch spots for travelers, either in a professional or leisure setting.
And since an increasing number of guests are also “remote” and location-independent, offering “digital” meeting spaces is a great way to enhance your guests’ experience.
Turn Meet’n’Greets into on-boarding sessions
Meet-and-greets are standard in the B&B profession. So why not take a chance to “on-board” your guests, acclimating them to not only the property and the particulars of your service but the various digital enhancements they can rely on as well?
Have you just installed a new, automated home cooling and heating system powered by an app? Have you partnered with a local meal delivery service to speed up “room service” as part of your B&B?
Take the time to walk your guests through these enhancements.
Many of these actions designed to enhance booking rates are actually all about a shift in behavior.
See, customers’ and guests’ actions and intentions are already digitally-driven. While it may feel like a huge ask, what these “changes” really come down to is bigger-picture thinking.
And, in order to start thinking bigger, B&Bs don’t have to look far – nor spend too much. Even overhauling just their booking system or website can completely simplify and, at the same time, amplify pretty much everything from bookings, to revenue, to customer satisfaction, and beyond.